Move over Europe: a new discovery in Indonesia could knock the western continent from its popular position as the cradle for early human creativity. According to the journal Nature, an Australian-Indonesian team of researchers made the surprising discovery that cave paintings found in Sulawesi, Indonesia date back to at least 35,000 to 40,000 years old, making them some of the oldest art known. The breakthrough research challenges the Eurocentric view of the origins of art and suggests that the earliest artists may have come from Africa.
Until this recent discovery, the birthplace for art was popularly believed to be in Europe, where art such as Spain’s 40,800-year-old red disk cave paintings in El Castillo had been considered the oldest cave paintings known. Although Sulawesi’s cave art had been discovered in the 1950s, the paintings were dismissed as no more than 10,000 years old by scientists convinced that older art could not be preserved in tropic climates. However, the new unexpected research in Indonesia suggests that our human ancestors were painting in Europe and in Asia at the same time, or even earlier. The dates were determined using a uranium decay technique on the limestone cave walls.
The newly dated cave art has spurred the development of two popular theories about the origins of art: the first suggests that our ancestors developed their art independently and simultaneously in different regions of the world and the second posits that early humans first developed their artistic skills in Africa before settling across the world. If the second, more exciting theory holds true, then there may be more cave paintings to be found. “We can expect future discoveries of depictions of human hands, figurative art and other forms of image-making dating to the earliest period of the global dispersal of our species,” the Australian-Indonesian research team told the New York Times.
Images via Nature / Kinez Riza